Amid Comparisons To The Office, Abbott Elementary’s Quinta Brunson Explains Why The Mockumentary Format Was Right For The Show

Quinta Brunson as Janine in Abbott Elementary Season 1
(Image credit: ABC)

When it comes to viewers comparing her show to The Office, Abbott Elementary’s Quinta Brunson isn't buying into them too much. She thinks that they're clearly different shows, aside from the fact that they're both workplace comedies. The comparisons have been strong, though, so much so that her co-star, Tyler James Williams, can't watch the NBC sitcom anymore. But one thing both sitcoms do share is their signature style - mockumentary. Now, amid the ongoing comparisons, Brunson has explained why the mockumentary format was right for her show.

The Abbott Elementary creator originally conceived the sitcom as an animated series before pairing up with The Office executive producer Randall Einhorn. But even before he was on board, the series’ mockumentary style was always something that was on the creative's mind. Brunson opened up to Deadline, during which she explained that it made sense for school life to be filmed as a documentary:

Mockumentary was always a part of the show. I knew that mockumentary would lend itself to this story, because I don’t think mockumentaries should be used for no reason. I think there should be a reason. And I felt that what better way to cover this school than via a documentary? I think documentaries are fascinating. What different people give to the camera, who tries to be in front of the camera and what’s actually going on? And I thought that was a great vehicle for these characters.

Examining the workplace through the mockumentary format is interesting and provides some unique laughs that only a show done in that format can provide. Characters like Ava Coleman, Jacob Hill, and Melissa Schemmenti were made for the format, given the chaotic nature of the co-workers’ chemistry. The format and those unique personalities are arguably what earned Abbott Elementary great ratings during its first season. Nevertheless, it's hard to deny that the ABC sitcom has touches of The Office as well as Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, and Reno 911 in its DNA.

As some may know, the comedy series was a form of tribute to Brunson’s sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Abbott. Another influence was her upbringing as the daughter of a schoolteacher. There were multiple occasions in which the actress observed very surreal moments between her mother and her colleagues. One particular parent-teacher conference was apparently a major factor that propelled her to craft the teacher-centric mockumentary:

It was also the moment I saw my mother, the moment I really got the inspiration for this idea. I was looking at my mom sitting at her desk and she was having a parent-teacher conference. And it was the year before she was about to retire. And I felt it. I felt like, Wow, I feel like a mockumentary-style camera right now because I’m in this room, but I’m not a part of what’s happening, I’m just watching it. But I’m in this room physically and I wanted the audience to feel that way too. And I think that has a lot to do with how we feel about the humor of Abbott. It’s one thing to laugh at teachers, it’s another thing to laugh with them. And I feel like having that mockumentary style gives our audience the ability to laugh with them, they are a part of the school.

So basically, the comedic actress created a show she wanted to watch, and the experiences that she details within the show are very true to real life. I mean, anyone who’s been to a parent-teacher conference surely knows the candid or funny moments that can take place in the classroom, especially when kids are involved. I'm still wondering about what exactly transpired during that meeting that made the would-be-producer think a show like this could work.

Clearly, employing those keen observations for a show has worked out for the actress-writer, as Abbott Elementary has scored multiple 2022 Emmy nominations following its freshman season. With this, the ABC sitcom does have the leg-up on The Office, since that show was met with lackluster responses during its first season. At present, Quinta Brunson and co. are working on Season 2, which will be even bigger than the first thanks to its 22-episode, full-season order. One would hope that as the show continues on, it'll continue to forge its own path and move further away from any comparisons to the storied NBC show.

Abbott Elementary Season 2 will premiere on September 21 in the coveted 9 p.m. ET timeslot. If you want to play catch up before the sophomore season premieres, grab a Hulu subscription to watch all of Season 1.

Adreon Patterson
News Writer

A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).